Many Lives Many Masters: Catherine’s Story

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Brian L. Weiss. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What was the experience of Catherine, who was featured in the book Many Lives Many Masters? What happened during her treatment?

In the classic bestseller Many Lives Many Masters, “Catherine” is a pseudonym that Dr. Brian Weiss uses to protect his patient’s real identity. She was in her late 20s when she first came to Weiss seeking treatment for her severe, lifelong phobias—as well as insomnia, recurring nightmares, anxiety, and depression.

Keep reading to learn about Catherine and her time with Dr. Weiss.

Catherine’s Current Life

Weiss’s first encounter with the idea of past lives started when he began treating “Catherine.” At the time, she worked as a laboratory technician in the same hospital where Weiss worked. She had a troubled relationship with her family and was pursuing an ongoing affair with a married man. Finally, Catherine was a practicing Catholic who had no prior interest or belief in the idea of reincarnation.

Catherine’s First Past Life Memory

After treating Catherine for 18 months with traditional talk therapy and making very little progress, Weiss began to suspect there might be repressed memories of trauma in Catherine’s past that were causing her current mental health issues. Weiss believed that if they could unearth those buried memories through hypnosis, Catherine would be able to confront her trauma head on and cure her present-day phobias. Catherine, though skeptical about hypnosis, agreed to try it.

Catherine’s First Experience With Hypnosis

According to Weiss, hypnosis is simply a state of intense relaxation that allows the mind to open more than usual. The process went like this: First, Weiss had Catherine focus on breathing slowly and calmly. Then, he helped her concentrate on deliberately relaxing each part of her body, one at a time. Once she was fully relaxed, he counted backwards from 10 to put her deeper into a trance state.

(Shortform note: The hypnosis process that Weiss describes here is fairly standard among hypnotherapy practitioners. Why is relaxation such an important part of the process? Weiss doesn’t say, but according to other hypnotherapists, focused relaxation lightly sedates the conscious mind, allowing the therapist direct access to the highly-suggestible subconscious mind. Note that the conscious mind is merely relaxed during this process—it doesn’t shut down entirely, and the patient can still choose to consciously reject the therapist’s suggestions if she chooses.)

While she was hypnotized, Weiss directed Catherine to go back to where her current symptoms started. He assumed Catherine’s mind would naturally regress to a buried trauma in her early childhood. Instead, however, Catherine began describing her first past life memory: She was a young woman living in a hot, dry climate in 1863 BC. In vivid detail, she described drowning alongside her young daughter; the memory was so intense that Catherine began to choke and gag while describing it. 

Weiss was stunned. He immediately thought up—and ultimately rejected—a host of rational ways to explain what Catherine described. He realized that, beyond that incident, Catherine showed no signs of any psychological disorders that could cause hallucinations, nor was she taking any drugs that could cause such an effect. Even more shocking to Weiss: The next week, Catherine reported that after recalling her death by drowning in a past life, she was no longer afraid of water in this life. Her recurring nightmares of drowning had disappeared entirely.

(Shortform note: Weiss assumes that processing a past-life memory of drowning is what cured Catherine’s nightmares. However, it’s also possible that merely being under hypnosis alleviated her nightmares, regardless of her specific memories; studies show that practicing relaxation techniques—such as hypnosis—can alleviate adult nightmares.)

Catherine’s Other Past Lives

As Weiss and Catherine continued their past life regression therapy, Catherine revealed that she had experienced 86 lifetimes on Earth; however, during therapy, she only recalled details from about 11 lifetimes. Additionally, her past life memories were not limited to one geographical region or even one gender—she remembered living all over the world at various points in history, having various professions, and being both male and female. 

(Shortform note: Even though Catherine remembers only a fraction of the 86 past lives she claims to have lived, the fact that she does remember several lives is unique: In most cases where people claim past life memories, they only remember details of a single past life. Even people under hypnosis tend to only remember one lifetime per session, whereas Catherine frequently remembered several per session. However, according to noted psychic Sylvia Browne, it is common for people to remember past lives in other countries and other genders.)

Memories of Death—and Beyond

As Catherine’s therapy progressed and she recalled more past lives, Weiss noticed a common thread: While Catherine had different beliefs about death in each of her past lives, she always recalled her death itself in the same way: She left her body, floated above it for a time, eventually saw a bright light, and then automatically passed into the light. 

(Shortform note: This progression matches the steps that Dr. Raymond Moody describes in his 1975 book, Life After Life. Moody interviewed people who came back to life after being pronounced dead and found that almost all of them described floating outside their body before being drawn toward a bright light. However, Weiss admits that he studied Moody’s work, so it may have influenced how he interpreted Catherine’s experiences.)

As recorded in Many Lives Many Masters, Catherine also recalled events that took place after her past deaths. As she recalled those experiences, Catherine’s voice changed in tone and volume and she began speaking about profound metaphysical ideas. Afterward, she had no memory of these moments, despite remembering the details of the past lives she recalled before and after them. Weiss realized that, in those times, Catherine wasn’t speaking her own mind: She was acting as a channel, allowing other spirits to speak through her. Catherine later identified these spirits as highly-evolved “Masters” whose goal was to reveal divine truths to Weiss through Catherine.

(Shortform note: Weiss’s use of the term “Masters” and his description of Catherine channeling these spirits is reminiscent of Theosophy, an occult religion. Theosophists believe in different degrees of “Master” spirits, including “Ascended Masters” who have transcended the need for physical bodies and permanently reside in the spirit realm, where they act as spiritual teachers for embodied humans. These Master spirits convey these messages through human mediums—like Catherine. Despite these similarities, Weiss has never explicitly linked his beliefs to Theosophy.)

Conclusions

After a few months and many revelations from the Masters, Catherine elected to end her sessions with Weiss because her symptoms were fully cured and she was healthier and happier than she’d ever been.

Weiss was similarly thriving. He found that he was more patient, intuitive, and loving than he had been before working with Catherine. He also helped his family develop their own psychic gifts. After Catherine, Weiss went on to treat an additional 12 patients using past life regression therapy—all of whom saw their psychiatric symptoms reduced.(Shortform note: We don’t know anything further about Catherine’s life after her therapy with Weiss; she remained anonymous. Weiss, on the other hand, became a well-known public figure after publishing Many Lives, Many Masters. He has now regressed thousands of patients, both in individual therapy and group presentations; he published an additional six books on the subject of reincarnation and past life regression therapy; and he’s appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show multiple times.)

Many Lives Many Masters: Catherine’s Story

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Brian L. Weiss's "Many Lives, Many Masters" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Many Lives, Many Masters summary:

  • How a skeptical scientist was convinced that reincarnation is real
  • The case study of "Catherine," a patient who recalled her past lives
  • The important life messages passed down by Catherine's masters

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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